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Human bones uncovered in Old Mission, Michigan | Jane Boursaw Photo
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Jeff Manigold never expected to go to work Monday morning and uncover human bones while digging an irrigation ditch in Old Mission. But that’s exactly what happened.

While digging a ditch in a vineyard owned by former Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson, directly south of the Old Mission General Store, Manigold noticed a bone in the dirt pile next to the ditch he was digging. It wasn’t until he picked it up that he knew it was probably a human femur bone.

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“I was trying to put in an irrigation line,” he said. “A couple of bones came up and I looked at them and realized one of them was a femur.”

There were other bones in the dirt pile, including what appeared to be a human skull. Manigold immediately called 911, and yesterday, personnel from the Michigan State Police Grayling Crime Laboratory, along with an archaeological team from Western Michigan University, were on the site.

The team recovered almost a complete skeleton, human in origin, along with remnants of a wood coffin and square nails. Photographs of the bones were sent to the the Medical Examiners Office at Western Michigan University, where they were examined and determined to be most likely human in origin.

It’s also speculated that the bones belong to a female, possibly 100 to 200 years old. It’s unclear whether the bones are Native American, and testing and carbon dating could take up to a month.

The recovered materials and bones remain in the custody of the Medical Examiners Office. It has also been determined that the bones are not related to any criminal activity.

Update, Sept. 8, 2018: We received a note today from Wendy S. Hirschenberger, MPH, CPHA, Health Officer; Grand Traverse County Health Department; Medical Examiner’s Office – Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties. She asked us to remove the photos of the bones, which we have done. She notes:

The medical examiner’s office would never authorize the release of pictures of human remains. It is very disrespectful to the decedent, next of kin or any surviving relatives. The medical examiner’s office will be issuing a press release in the future once the forensic analysis is completed on the bones. That process can take 2-6 weeks. At this time we do not have any specific details of the gender, ethnicity, age or identification of the decedent.

Editor’s Note: This 5-acre parcel was purchased by my family in the 1960s, and was a cherry orchard during the entire time we owned it. We sold it several years ago to Vinnie Johnson, who planted a vineyard on it. The parcel was at one time owned by W.R. Stone, as noted on this Old Mission plat map circa late 1800s (click map for a larger view):

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Old Mission Plat Map, Circa late 1800s

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. Out of respect for the passed individual, it should be ascertained if this is a Native American ancestor prior to posting pictures. This person can be related to a local family who would object to photos on cultural grounds.

    • You do have a point, Holly , but I feel it extends to all people who have buried their dead and not just Native Americans. I once saw an educational exhibit on the Vikings that included a burial pit of bones. I remember reflecting on how I could totally understand why some Native Americans object to their dead being displayed in a museum. Definitely unsettling. Wouldn’t it be nice if the bones could be re-interred on OMP where the family left them? I sure wouldn’t want a developer two hundreds years from now to dig me up from Peninsula Cemetery to build houses. (Just kidding, folks, pretty sure that would not happen). But I do applaud the Gazette for reporting the story and the efforts to identify these bones.

    • ‘Cause ya know Holly that only white people care if you desecrate their ancestor’s bones. Did it not occur to you that this could still be a local family’s ancestor and be Native American, too.

  2. It is disrespectful to the descendants of this person to publish these photos. Permission from a photographer does not clear you of the ethical violation. I suggest you look into the best practices in publishing in regards to making public photos of what are quite possibly Native American remains.

  3. Somebody better tell the local TV news channels what the ME had to say as the pictures have been broadcasted. Not trying to cast criticism on those officials reported to be at the scene but I wonder why the 911 responders, the medical examiner’s office representative and the university archaeological team didn’t notice that photos other than official ones were being taken and caution the photographer to stop? There was a police yellow tape, after all and one would assume these professionals have much more experience with remains than the photographer. Just shows you how quickly you can get in trouble with an IPhone these days. I assume the photographer’s intention was not to be disrespectful or make mischief so a lesson for everyone.

  4. This would of been very interesting to know aprox age.
    My Helferich family moved from Ontario to the Old Mission. 4 of the families lived, married and raised their children their right next to each other in the 1880’s aprox. Many of those kids did the same until they moved to Detroit or Traverse City. (via census records and marriage/death records) Most who died in Old Mission are buried near by in Maple Ridge.


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